MANCHESTER, NH – When Melissa Fox got married to the man of her dreams six years ago, she never dreamed that the only wedding dress she tried on and loved – the strapless one with the unusual red trim – would one day be painted and repurposed as a symbolic suit of armor in the battle against her husband Steve’s agonizing battle with Stage 4 oral cancer.
But that’s exactly what ‘s going to happen April 25 as the young mother of three takes her kids to Wason Pond in Chester for a paint party they’ll never forget. There they will refashion the dress in preparation for Melissa to model it during the “Rock the Dress” segment of the May 2 Norris Cotton Seeds of Hope Fashion Show at Southern New Hampshire University.
“What’s so ironic for me is that red and white are the colors associated with cancer of the mouth,” says Melissa, 30, of Derry, who, since her husband’s diagnosis in October, 2014, goes by the name Warrior Woman. “And the yellow and blue? Well, it wouldn’t be a Superman theme without yellow and blue.”
Steve is known these days as Super Steve by family and friends. No wonder. When a biopsy of the lesion on his tongue was found to be malignant, 38-year-old Super Steve endured a glossectomy – tongue removal – followed by a procedure to rebuild it using fatty tissue under his chin, an amazing medical feat performed by Dr. Joseph Paydarfar of Norris Cotton Cancer Center in Lebanon. While the latter surgery was performed, cancer was found in the lymph nodes in Steve’s neck, leading his medical team to determine that his cancer was Stage 4. Unable to eat at all subsequent to the surgery and requiring a feeding tube, Super Steve has lost more than 40 pounds since diagnosis. All while undergoing painful chemotherapy and radiation treatments.
“My 6- and 4-year-old know just about everything about feeding tubes and how to hook one up to their daddy,” says the resilient Melissa, who gave birth to Avery just weeks before Steve’s biopsy. “Painting my dress with our kids and participating in ‘Rock the Dress’ for the Norris Cotton Cancer Center fundraiser is all about making it through the tough, tough times of cancer; it’s liberating. It’s about living the vows we made to each other to stay together through sickness and health.”
“Rock the Dress” model Tessa Creamer of Hooksett, on the other hand, is representing herself, a nurse who took all the lessons on early detection to heart and she’s convinced it saved her life from one of the most deadly cancers: Melanoma.
“Being of Irish descent, I’m very freckled anyway,” recounts the mother of four who was 35 at the time, “but I happened to notice this one particular freckle had a discolored little tail on the end of it and an odd itch so I went to see my dermatologist right away and he did a biopsy. Sure enough, it was Stage 1.”
While further tests showed the cancer hadn’t spread, the aggressive excision left a significant scar. One that Tessa quickly grew to abhor and cover with long sleeves regardless of the temperature.
“Thankfully, my role as an active mom proved more important than my vanity so now I don’t give it a second thought.”
Just to reaffirm that attitude, Tessa will “rock” the event with a repurposed dressy black number from her closet with short sleeves.
Melissa and Tessa are two of seven “Rock the Dress” models who, in addition to the “his and hers” runway show, where local personalities and survivors strut their stuff, all are excited to do their part to help raise much-needed funds to develop better treatments for the many diseases known as cancer.
“The dollars raised at “Seeds of Hope” will ensure that Norris Cotton Cancer Center remains the premier research and treatment facility in northern New England and for that we are so grateful,” said Mark Israel, Director of the Center. “We have just received the wonderful news that our application to renew our National Cancer Institute designation as a Comprehensive Cancer Center was met with success, promoting the synergies necessary to take the big steps forward in ending cancer.”
More than $20,000 was raised last year, with hopes of surpassing that total following the May 2 event, as 250 ticket holders will enjoy a delicious cocktail reception at 5:30 p.m. with food and drink generously donated by such local establishments as 900 Degrees, Ignite, Milly’s Tavern, Pine State Beverage, Who You Callin’ Cupcake, Taste of Heaven, and Edible Arrangements. Additionally, a silent auction with wine baskets, restaurant, and performing arts gift certificates will be held and a special raffle featuring a stunning diamond necklace donated by Jonathan’s Jewelers and valued at $2,500.
Then, fashionistas – and Norris Cotton Cancer Center supporters – will take their seats near the catwalk to see the season’s hottest trends from The Gap, Christopher & Banks, Statement, Acopio, Runner’s Alley, Men’s Wearhouse, George’s Apparel and fab formalwear for women by Calvin Klein. Hair and makeup services donated by Chill Spa in Manchester.
One special model is Carolyn Choate. Not because she anchored WYCN, Nashua’s only commercial TV station which aired on Comcast for close to 25 years, but because she’s a Stage 3 breast cancer survivor.
“It’s been close to 12 years since my diagnosis,” beams the 57-year-old Nashuan, “but after mastectomies in 2003 and 2012 and without reconstruction, I’ve never felt healthier or happier in my life. I wanted to be in this fashion show to prove you don’t need breasts to be beautiful.”
Carolyn said she feels an obligation to “pay it forward” in the cancer community and when asked by Norris Cotton Cancer Center to participate in a five-year groundbreaking anti-cancer drug trial from 2009 to 2014, through Dr. Peter Kaufman in Lebanon, she didn’t hesitate.
“No one said it would be easy, but nothing of significant value ever is. Are you kidding? I have two daughters; I care about the evolution of cancer research, it’s the least I could do!”
Tickets are $50 per person for the May 2 event and can be purchased at or,contact Christine Pariseau-Telge at (603)703-6955. Tyler and Lauren Sullivan of Paul Mitchell Northern New England, will serve as Master and Mistress of Ceremonies.
Norris Cotton Cancer Center has 17 locations throughout New Hampshire and Vermont. Nationally recognized, the Center combines the advanced cancer research of Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth, with patient-centered cancer care at Dartmouth-Hitchcock. It is the only comprehensive cancer center in northern New England, and one of the only such centers in the country as designated by the National Cancer Institute.
Who’s Rockin’ the Dresses?
In their own words.
Melissa Fox, Derry, NH: We were hoping to buy a house, had just had another child, a beautiful, happy baby girl. We had absolutely no idea really, what oral cancer was. Now here we are, Stage 4, tongue cancer “warriors,” fighting the fight, sharing our story about “Super Steve” to try to help save somebody else (and why the whole gang painted my wedding dress with Superman colors.) We hold our heads high, take each day as it comes. The 4 and 6 year olds know all about feeding tubes and how to hook it up to Daddy. But most importantly, our cancer journey has taught them – and us – about compassion for others.
Danielle Rice, Belmont, NH: Despite the challenges and pain Justin faced weekly with every treatment for Hodgkin’s Disease, he was an amazing new father and a wonderful husband. And while I couldn’t understand the “why” of infertility and even more so, the “why” of cancer, eventually I realized God had a plan. Our beautiful daughter, Annabelle, slept on her daddy’s chest and healed his tumor more than any chemo or radiation ever could. She made him laugh and smile during treatments and encouraged him not to give up.
Tessa Creamer, Hooksett, NH: I noticed a small freckle with a little, red discoloration – and an odd itch – on my left upper arm. Being the ever-cautious type, I saw my dermatologist the next week and he performed a biopsy. The pathology report said Stage 1. I felt very fortunate and proceeded to have a wide excision of the area, blood work, and scans to rule out any metastatic disease. All were negative. Still, the excision left a painful and unsightly reminder of my brush with cancer on my arm; one that I saw every day in the mirror and that I tried to cover up wearing long sleeves.
Heather Beal, Manchester, NH: Not long after I volunteered to “Rock the Dress,” a young woman walked into the store where I work and, after offering my help, I noticed she had a really happy aura about her. She must have noticed my stare because she said, “I’m sorry. I just met with my doctor and he said I was breast cancer-free!” Then, I got all happy, too, and asked if I could give her a hug. “Absolutely!” she said.
Victoria Plumpton, Manchester, NH: I’m honored to “Rock the Dress!” Mine was worn at my sister’s wedding. Ironically, it’s the color of Multiple Myeloma awareness, which my mum was diagnosed with in August 2014. Since very young, cancer has affected my family. First, my uncle and, in 1999, my father. It’s been “bittersweet.” We all agree that love and support from those around us has played – and still plays – a huge role in dealing with this terrible disease. My mum and I came up with a meaningful way to show our appreciation. Not only is our “army” of Cancer Warriers & Supporters represented, but “armies” everywhere giving unconditional love and remembrance.
Allyson Foor, Concord, NH: As if the physical limitations from Hodgkin’s Lymphoma weren’t bad enough, I was an emotional “basket case.” Think about it. A young, vibrant 16-year-old teen, finding her place in the world, hoping to fit it, where personal appearance means absolutely everything to one’s self-esteem. It hit me hard as in, ‘oh, my gosh, I’m going to lose my hair’ and, ‘I’m not going to be able to stay on the cheerleading team.’ But imagine that singular moment when the question of all questions formed in my invincible young woman’s mind, ‘am I going to die?’
Dante Brown, Manchester, NH: I’m so lucky to have a grandfather like my Papa, Jeff Kantor. I just love spending time with him and he with me. Whether working together in his wood shop, motor boating in the Atlantic, or him cheering me on in sports, we’ve been a team since I was born, for 13 years, but he has fought a terrible disease called prostate cancer for far longer. Tonight it’s my turn to cheer for him in my mom’s wedding dress painted blue for “Seeds of Hope.” Papa, you’re an amazing man. Your positive attitude and incredible energy has taught me so much about life and love. Lessons I will never forget for as long as I live.
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